Argos have rare specimen

Defensive line prospect Daryl Whittington caught the eye of Argo co-ordinator Rich Stubler....

Defensive line prospect Daryl Whittington caught the eye of Argo co-ordinator Rich Stubler. (Sun/Toronto Argos)

BILL LANKHOF -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 10:52 AM ET

Daryl Whittington is in familiar territory. He is the underdog.

It has been his life story. Rarely has he walked away from a challenge without a smile. He has found joy in every victory and turned failure into opportunity.

It is, Whittington says, a family tradition dating back to the days when his parents worked the cotton fields of Mississippi.

"I have the most awesome parents in the world,'' Wittington said yesterday at Argos training camp. "My dad is incredible."

"If I had the opportunity to rewrite the Bible I'd put him in there; that's how I feel about my dad. He made $32,000 with eight kids and made sure his wife and kids had everything we needed."

BRAIN MEETS BRAWN

The Argos training camp prospectus lists Whittington as a defensive end. As a man, he is so much more. He is the epitomy of brain meets brawn -- 6-foot-5, 250 pounds with an intellect to match.

His father, Allie, and mother, Odyster, grew up in a time and place where African Americans were strangers to education.

"My dad had high-school teachers who hadn't had more than a Grade 3 education," Whittington said.

Allie wasn't letting that happen to his kids.

Daryl's sister just finished a Masters at Yale. His brother is playing football at UCLA. "Dad taught us discipline ... 30 minutes every day he made us play the piano -- didn't matter what the other kids were doing. Instead of putting things on a kid, like clothes, he'd rather put his money into the kid."

Daryl was released on the final day of training camp in 2002 by the Philadelphia Eagles. It turned out to be a good thing because he was sent to Europe and the Frankfurt Galaxy, where the Argos first spotted him.

"I've been trying to get him up here a couple years but he had some things he wanted to look at in the NFL, then he hurt his knee," Argos personnel director Greg Mohns said.

Whittington again was cut by the Eagles in 2004. So, how could that be good?

Whittington went back to the University of Missouri and 18 months later walked away with a Masters in science, environmental and architectural studies.

"I had to overcome a lot of obstacles in life. I have a learning disability,'' he said.

"I had problems. But when you have the desire and the discipline you can accomplish just about anything. Since the third grade I wanted to be an architect and an NBA player like Magic Johnson."

He's still working on the sports angle but he was hired by Highland Homes in St. Louis and in three years out of football worked on everything from a $50-million condo development to designing private energy-efficient homes.

"I want to learn what we're going to be doing 20 years from now. I wanted to challenge the way we build things in society. I want to leave a mark."

But, always, in the back of his mind was football. He worked out with several of the St. Louis Rams and kept in touch with Mohns.

"The guys kept telling me I should still be playing. I don't know if this is my last shot because it is a passion to me, like architecture."

Whittington left his job and on March 29 signed with Toronto.

"Sometimes when guys are away they lose that initial burst. But he's a smart kid, a great athlete, good size," Mohns said.

The Argos are deep in Whittington's spot. Behind starters Riall Johnson and Jonathan Brown, there are Corey Jackson, Ron Flemons and Darrell Lee.

The Argos may not be able to keep them all.

"We'll be anxious to see how he does Saturday (in the pre-season opener). You always want quality depth," Mohns said.

If it doesn't work out, Whittington will return to his second love.

"It's a blessing to play but the common denominator in this game is that the day will come when we have to call it quits,'' he said. "

"A lot of people told me going back to get my Masters was a good move because it gives me something to fall back on. I disagree. If you think you're just falling back on something then you've already missed the bus."


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